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Authors: Robin L. Rotham

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FrankenDom

Copyright 2012 Robin L Rotham

Published by Robin L Rotham

Cover Design by R.G. Alexander

Formatted by
IRONHORSE Formatting

 

Nook Edition

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no
part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright
owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents
are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced
in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use
of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold
or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,
please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading
this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then
you should return to BarnesAndNoble.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the author's work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to…

 

 

John Yossarian, for making me laugh.

This book wouldn’t be the same without you.

 

 

And to my fans, for being so patient and encouraging.

I promise, aliens are coming…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

 

R.G. Alexander gave me the idea for this book and created an incredible cover. 

 

Anne Calhoun and Eden Bradley critiqued

and helped ensure FrankenDom was as good as I could get it.

 

Sher is my original crit partner. I wouldn’t dream of publishing

without her amazing insights.

 

Cookie handled the technical details. If it weren’t for him,

this book would still be languishing on my hard drive.

 

Dawn is a promo machine and I’m very lucky to have her.

 

The Smutkedettes’ enthusiasm makes me feel like I can really write.

 

The music of VAST continues to take my mind incredible places.

 

 

My heartfelt thanks to all of you.

 

 

 

Table Of Contents

 

A Note to Readers

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

FrankenDom Playlist

About Robin L. Rotham

Bonus Excerpt: Alien Overnight - Robin L Rotham

Bonus Excerpt: Enemy Overnight - Robin L Rotham

Bonus Excerpt: Seniorella - Robin L Rotham

Bonus Excerpt: Carnal Harvest - Robin L Rotham

Bonus Excerpt: Carnal Compromise - Robin L Rotham

Bonus Excerpt: Sanctuary - Eden Bradley

Bonus Excerpt: Wicked Release - RG Alexander

 

 

 

 

A Note to Readers

 

FrankenDom is a fast, intense ride through a fictional world in which the characters
engage in all sorts of kinky BDSM games. The characters observe the rules of safe,
sane and consensual play throughout. However, the heroine skips a few safety precautions
along the way because she already knows and trusts her Doms (most of them, anyway),
and she has a safe word, which she uses and her Doms respect.

 

If you decide to explore the lifestyle, please exercise considerably more caution
than my heroine does. Before you jump in with both feet, do your own research in real
life, not in fiction. Get involved in the community. Observe the players and get to
know them. Ask questions. Make sure someone knows where you are. And always, always,
always
use a safe word.

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

October 13

 

When someone pounded on my apartment door like they meant business, I fumbled one
of my mother’s second-best teacups and almost dropped it.

If I’d had any idea who was doing the pounding, I might have let it fall and bitten
my knuckle in suspense. Instead, I blew out an annoyed breath and finished wrapping
the delicate cup in newspaper before answering. I would have ignored the rude summons
altogether but I needed boxes too badly.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I said as I threw open the door. “I need some… Colin?”

He grinned. “I’m just in time then.” When I blinked at him in shock, the grin widened.
“Good morning, Rachel.”

“I thought you were the movers,” I said blankly. The last time I’d been this close
to Dr. Colin Carter, he was pulling his underwear up over his spectacular ass. Why
was he standing on my doorstep five years later, fully dressed in blue jeans and a
black leather jacket?

He looked into the living room. “May I come in?”

After a moment’s hesitation, I stood back, tugging self-consciously at the stretched-out
hem of my faded purple UW sweatshirt. Then I glanced at the living room, which was
a shambles and not just because I was moving. Organization had never been my strong
suit. Boxes and books and stacks of medical journals made an obstacle course of the
floor, and piles of paper covered every horizontal surface.

I flushed. “Sorry, I wasn’t really expecting company. It’s a bit of a wreck.”

“Not a problem.” He wrapped one arm around my shoulders in a loose embrace and brushed
a kiss over my cheek before walking past.

My lungs collapsed in a nostalgic paroxysm of pure lust, leaving me practically gasping
in his wake. Oh God, he still smelled like…
Colin
. Wind and leather and unrepentant sex—mind-bendingly dark sex that satisfied me on
some unfathomable level even as it left me craving more.

I was wet and ready to go in an instant, something that hadn’t happened in a depressingly
long time.

Feeling exposed, I demanded, “What are you doing here?”

He turned, wearing an ironic smile, his hands in his pants pockets. “Never were much
for small talk, were you? Just…” His blue eyes skimmed down the front of my body.
“…get right down to business.”

“Please do,” I said acidly as heat gushed into my cheeks. “As you can see, I’ve got
a lot going on.”

“You certainly do,” he murmured, his gaze fixed on my breasts as if he’d never seen
a pair before.

I crossed my arms. “Colin!”

When he dragged his eyes up to mine, the feral hunger radiating from them took my
breath away.

Then he blinked and all I saw was the gleam of a challenge. Had I imagined it?

“All right,” he said portentous tone, “I’m here to offer you a fellowship.”

My eyes just about popped out of my head. “Really? You leave town without a word,
show up unannounced five years later to leer at me and then offer me a fellowship?
Gee, how can I resist?
Oh wait
, I’ve already got a fellowship, so fuck off, Colin.”

“Not like this one. Trust me, Rachel, you want this one.”

Reluctantly intrigued, I scowled. “What’s so special about this fellowship?”

“You’ll be working with Julian Kilmartin.”

Everything in me stilled.
Julian
. I hadn’t seen him since before Colin left, and yet even now, his name alone had
the power to make me…pliable, somehow. Boneless.

Obviously I still had a weakness for arrogant young doctors.

Swallowing, I said, “I didn’t realize you were still associated with him.”

Actually, I had no idea what had happened to Colin after my second year of residency.
He’d just…disappeared. My occasional internet searches never turned up anything current,
and the few times I’d swallowed my pride and asked after him, no one had heard a word
about him.

“I leave the limelight to Julian,” Colin said with a dismissive wave. “We’ve spent
the last few years working on some cutting-edge research—I’m talking
razor’s
edge, Rachel—and we’re on the verge of accomplishing something truly miraculous.
We need a good vascular surgeon on the team and your name was—is—right at the top
of Julian’s list.”

“Why?” I asked baldly. I may have been a damn good surgeon, but I was hardly God’s
gift to modern medicine. Julian Kilmartin could afford his own dream-team of world-class
surgeons.

Colin gave a little half-shrug. “He trusts you.”

“Oh, well that explains everything.” I rolled my eyes. “You know, we doctors are,
by and large, very trustworthy. That’s why they give us licenses to play Operation
with real people.”

“But you’re the only one who’s you.”

I stared at him. “This is crazy. I can’t believe he even remembers me. It’s been more
than five years since he left UW and went into private research, and we were in different
departments so it’s not like we even had much contact.”

“You’re a memorable woman, and Julian knows a good thing when he sees one.” At my
snort, he added, “He’s kept tabs on you over the years, Rachel. You have plenty of
credits in some impressive vascular journals, and that paper you did on endovascular
repair of complex abdominal aortic aneurisms was particularly well received. He’s
even got a podcast of you on the vascular panel at the Women’s Comprehensive Health
conference in Atlanta last spring.”

Slack-jawed with amazement, I continued to stare.

“We’ll double EVI’s financial incentive,” he tossed out.

“Holy—
Double
?” My jaw dropped even further. The offer from Early Vascular Institute was already
what most people would consider exorbitant. I could afford to pay off my student loans
right away. Buy a nice house. Maybe even buy into one of the better surgical practices.

But this…

“What in the hell are you guys working on that’s worth that kind of money?” I asked
suspiciously.

“Ah-ah-aaah.” He shook his head with a secretive smile. “Not until you’ve signed the
contracts. And if you need a little more incentive, this project is based in Montaneva.
You always wanted to travel, didn’t you, Rachel? Have you made it to Europe yet?”

I could tell from his tone that he knew I hadn’t, damn him. And he knew enough about
EVI’s offer to double it. Good Lord, as if they needed more incentive than the opportunity
to work with the illustrious Dr. Julian Kilmartin.

“What’s the catch?” Because there always was one. Nothing worth having came without
a price.

“No catch. You agree to work for Julian for a minimum of two years, keep your mouth
shut until the end of time—unless we renegotiate the non-disclosure agreement at a
later date—and you’ll get your salary and all expenses paid, plus a percentage of
the income from any patents that result from research you’re directly involved in.”

It was an astounding offer, but I was wary.

“Why Montaneva?”

“Let’s just say the government there is a little more receptive to outside-the-box
thinking and trusts Julian to know where to draw the line.”

I frowned. Less governmental oversight could be a good thing, as long as scientists
were scrupulously honest. If they weren’t…

Jesus, was I really thinking about this?

“I’ve already signed a contract with EVI,” I hedged.

Just moments ago, I was thrilled to be joining the Early Vascular Institute all the
way across the country in Maryland. It was an offer was beyond anything I’d dared
to hope for—not that I wasn’t a damn good surgeon, but the competition was stiff and
we all knew it took more than surgical skill to start out at such a prestigious practice.
Connections were everything, and not only was I far from adept at making them but
I’d never been comfortable taking advantage of the few I had, so why cultivate more?

Nevertheless, after three relatively painless interviews, the vascular surgery fellowship
at EVI was mine and I had the signed contract to prove it. Bailing on it now could
not only burn bridges, it could nuke any number of potential career highways.

“Julian will take care of it. You must be aware that money is really no object for
him, and he has a lot of influence in the upper echelons of the medical community.”

All too aware. Kilmartin BioTech had made the news with astonishing regularity over
the years, and Dr. Kilmartin himself was a medical visionary, a revolutionary. How
could one man have been blessed with so much drive and intelligence and sheer, unadulterated
personal power?

God, the offer was so tempting, but I couldn’t help hesitating. Already a headline-making
neuromuscular fellow when I was still a green resident, Julian Kilmartin had intimidated
the hell out of me. But he’d also cut an incredibly romantic figure with his aloof,
pale Britishness, exacting standards and steel-eyed intensity, and like many of the
residents on staff, I’d crushed on him pretty hard. He’d lost his father to Bain’s
Atrophy when he was in high school and dedicated his life to finding a cure for the
aggressive lower motor neuron disease. Literally his entire life. As far as anyone
knew, he didn’t exist outside a hospital or lab setting—his name had never been linked
to a woman’s, which made him the target for many female rescue fantasies.

Not that
I’d
wanted to rescue him. I’d just yearned to have him eviscerate me with that rapier
stare until I collapsed in on myself like a dying star. In countless daydreams, I’d
made some clumsy or careless mistake in front of him and he’d dragged me by the arm
to his office and given me a stern dressing-down. I was in tears long before he finished,
but that didn’t stop him from bending me over the desk and pulling down my panties
to reinforce the lesson with a stinging, bare-handed spanking.

And that was just one of the many twisted fantasies about Dr. Julian Xavier Kilmartin
I’d entertained—not to mention masturbated to—over the two years we were at UW together.
I couldn’t even keep him out of my thoughts when I was in bed with his protégée.

And to my everlasting shame, Colin had known it.

The last morning we were together, he’d called me on it while he was still lying over
my back, one hand buried between my legs and his softening cock buried in a place
I’d never imagined allowing any man. I hadn’t even had an orgasm yet—he’d delighted
in making me wait for it, which frustrated me in the moment but was ultimately worth
the suspense.

Not that time.

“You were imagining Julian in here again, weren’t you, Rachel?” he’d panted, flexing
his slippery fingers inside my vagina and grinding his palm against my supremely sensitized
clit. If he’d said anything but that, I might have finally gone over the edge.

But this was the second time he’d skewered me with the uncanny insight, and feeling
embarrassed and a little betrayed that he’d make fun of me in such an intimate moment—not
to mention resentful that he was familiar enough with Dr. Kilmartin to call him by
his Christian name—I’d bucked him off. “I was not, you asshole.”

“Come on, admit it—you’re only sleeping with me because of him.” He laughed when I
screeched. “I don’t mind, honestly. You want me to ask if he’s up for a threesome?”

That’s when I told him to get out. And he’d done it, still chuckling as he walked
out my front door.

For the last time, as it turned out, which hadn’t been my intention at all.

“I wasn’t making fun of you that morning,” Colin said, looking at me intently.

Good God, he was
still
a mind-reader.

“If you want me to even think about your offer, I wouldn’t mention that incident again,”
I managed coolly. “Let’s keep this strictly professional, please.”

“Julian would have turned me down,” Colin persisted, “but only because he felt he
had no choice.”

“Goodbye.” I marched toward the front door.

“He wanted you in the worst way, Rachel McBride.”

I froze, keeping my back to him. “What?”

“Julian wanted you,” he repeated. “But he wouldn’t let himself have you.”

Stunned, I turned to gape at him and he met my eyes without flinching. “Why not?”

“Because you were a newly-minted resident and he was a fellow in the hospital. He’s
an ethical man, Rachel.” Colin sighed. “I owe you an apology. I should never have
said what I did. It was cruel to both of you. My only excuse is that I was jealous.”

And I’d thought my jaw couldn’t drop any further. “Of
what
? You were his protégée, his
pet
.”

He gave me a puzzled look and then shook his head as if to clear it. “Yes, but you’d
caught his attention and I was still insecure enough to resent it.”

“That’s why you slept with me—to get back at me?”

“No,” he said, “I slept with you because I was a horny senior resident and you were
a sweet-smelling little doctor-girl who only had eyes for Julian.”

“So I was a challenge. Nice.”

He sighed. “I’m not winning any points here, am I?”

“You must be joking.”

“Look, I thought it was best to be as honest as I could and clear the air between
us. I’m very sorry, Rachel, and I hope I have the chance to make it up to you. I was
a complete assmunch, and believe me, I’ve regretted it ever since.”

I was still trying to get a handle on Colin’s uncustomary humility when he added darkly,
“Julian was livid.”

“You
told
him?” I hissed.

He nodded somberly. “As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I’d fucked up and
I thought he’d better hear it from me first.”

“Really? You thought I’d go running to him?” Had he even known me at all?

“No, but word gets around in hospitals.”

“Not from me, it doesn’t.” When he didn’t say anything, I couldn’t resist prompting,
“And?”

“And…he made sure I’d never again say anything without thinking about the potential
consequences first.” When I looked at him curiously, he said, “None of your beeswax.”

Although my imagination was going wild, I shrugged. “If you say so.”

“So do you think you’re mature enough to let bygones be bygones?” he asked, raising
his brow.

I returned the look. “My maturity clearly isn’t the issue here, Dr. Beeswax.”

Colin grinned. “Touché, Dr. McBride. So what about it—are you going to reach out and
grab the chance of a lifetime?”

Confused and torn, I looked out the window. It would be awkward enough working with
Colin again after everything that had happened between us. But knowing Dr. Kilmartin
had once wanted me as a woman, and had now sent for me as a
surgeon
…?

I shook my head. No way would I flatter myself that it was just an excuse to see me
again, because men like him didn’t hide behind excuses. They just took what they wanted.

So why had Colin dangled that bit of information in front of my twitchy little nose
and then moved right along as if it had no relevance now?

Because it probably didn’t.

And even if it did, I couldn’t let it affect my decision. It would be one thing to
give up the fellowship at EVI in favor of a better offer—that was marginally justifiable.
But Julian Kilmartin was the one deliciously frightening fantasy I’d never outgrown,
and my heart still gave a jerk whenever I saw his photo on the internet or read some
news story about him. Finding out that my attraction to him might have been reciprocated,
at least on a physical level, pitched my stomach into free-fall, and everything in
me longed to explore what might still be possible between us.

That would be a totally
un
justifiable reason for passing on EVI. Not to mention unprofessional as hell, and
likely a tiny bit insane. Even if the attraction were still there, why should I expect
it to unfold differently this time? Julian Kilmartin was clearly married to his research.

If I accepted the offer, it would have to be for strictly professional reasons. I
couldn’t let myself hope there might be more to the offer or I’d be setting myself
up for disappointment of epic proportions.

“If I have to get down on my knees and beg your forgiveness, I will.” The intensity
of Colin’s voice startled me. “I’m serious, Rachel. What we’re working on is so big…”

He blew out a huge breath and ran his hand through his short brown hair, which had
lost none of its tendency to curl boyishly. Then he looked at me again. “If you pass
on this, sooner or later you’re going to hate yourself. I guarantee it.”

I bit my lip. “Can I have a few days to think about it?”

“We have an experimental procedure scheduled on the 31
st
, and that date is set in stone. We need you there as soon as possible so we have
time to bring you up to speed.” Unzipping his jacket, he pulled a manila envelope
and handed it to me. “It’s all explained in the contracts.”

“What—”

“I’m due back in Montaneva tomorrow morning so all I can give you is…” He glanced
at his watch. “Five hours. My cell is on my business card. If I don’t hear from you
by three o’clock, I’ll have to make the offer to our second choice.”

Second choice.
So much for there being anything more to the offer.

“No pressure there,” I grumbled.

“Julian’s personal assistant will take care of all the details for you—moving and
storage, travel arrangements, mail forwarding—”

“Is she going to break the news to my parents and sisters?”

“If you want
him
to, yes, he will.”

I rolled my eyes. “I was kidding, but no thanks. If I accepted, could I at least tell
EVI who I’d be working for so they’d know I wasn’t making the decision lightly?”

“Of course. Julian will be contacting Brian Duff personally anyway.”

Well that made me feel a little better. Dr. Duff would probably jump ship himself
to work with Julian Kilmartin.

“You have a passport,” he said, as if a negative answer were unthinkable. If he’d
shown up here two months earlier, that’s what he would have gotten, though.

“Yes. I did make it to the Turks and Caicos last month.”

“I know. How was the diving?”

He
knew
? What the hell did that mean? And what the hell else did he know?

“Great,” I said in a defiant tone.

“Excellent. So all you have to do is fill out the paperwork, sign the contracts in
front of a notary, and pack your bags. Julian will have your work visa expedited.”

“I haven’t said yes yet.”

“You will.” He checked his watch again and headed for the front door.

“I’m not going to sleep with you again,” I threw out desperately.

“I’m not going to ask,” he threw back with a gleam in his eye.

That shut my mouth, first with embarrassed annoyance and then with confusion. Exactly
what did he mean by
that
?

Standing on the threshold, he said, “Five hours, Rachel—don’t be late.”

It didn’t dawn on me until the door closed softly behind him that I was holding my
breath. I’d always felt slightly at sea with Colin Carter, and clearly that hadn’t
changed a bit. After just ten minutes in his company, I felt as though I were on a
small boat in the middle of a rolling ocean and hadn’t gotten my sea legs under me.

And yet Colin
had
changed. He’d been genuinely humble and earnest, qualities I would never have ascribed
to him five years ago. He’d apologized for his behavior back then, something I’d never
known him to do. He’d even offered to get down on his knees and beg for my cooperation,
something the hotshot senior resident I’d known would
never
have done.

Dr. Colin Carter had obviously matured quite a bit, and he’d made me a straightforward
professional offer with no apparent strings attached. So why did I still feel like
we were playing some kind of game and he was the only one who knew the rules?

God, was it me? Was I reading subtext in his words that wasn’t there? Was I the one
who hadn’t changed, who hadn’t managed to move on after he vanished from my life?

It was a humbling thought.

Sighing, I pushed over a pile of papers and slumped onto the couch. From a professional
standpoint, I’d have to be insane to pass up such offer—I knew I had the diagnostic
instincts, the surgical skills and the competitive drive to play with the big boys,
and this project could be history in the making.

But from a personal standpoint, I was hopelessly outclassed and likely to make a complete
fool of myself.

I’d be have to be insane to accept.

After going round and round with myself for hours, I finally gave up the fight. There
were some things a woman just couldn’t live without knowing.

“I’m in,” I said when Colin answered.

I could hear the smile in his voice when he replied, “Welcome to Kilmartin BioTech,
Dr. McBride. I’ll have a messenger there at three o’clock.”

Kicking myself for dithering so long, I filled out all the forms, skimmed over the
employment contract and rushed to the bank to sign all the documents in front of a
notary, barely making it back to my apartment before the messenger arrived to pick
them up.

 

* * * * *

 

The next couple of days passed in a blur of shopping, packing, and visiting. My parents
and my older sister Clarissa were thrilled for me—they’d already adjusted to the idea
of my living almost three thousand miles away, so what was another four thousand?
They spent the evening crowded around Dad’s laptop with Clare’s husband Art, looking
up information on Montaneva, a picturesque little speck of a country sandwiched between
Hungary and Romania, and planning a family vacation there next summer.

My younger sister Breanna used their distraction to drag me off to the kitchen and
grill me like a cheese sandwich.

Though Clare and I were closer in age, Bree and I were each other’s best friends.
Clare tended to be a little domineering and a lot demanding, which made her the perfect
army staff sergeant and worked very well for her and easy-going Art. But it had been
a challenge for the rest of the family when we were growing up.

Bree had been a bit of a challenge for my parents, too, just because she was so daring
and outspoken, so completely at ease with herself and others. I’d worried about her
a little, especially during her teens, but I’d also secretly admired her boldness
and wished I were more like her. She was the only one I’d ever said anything to about
Colin—though she got the heavily edited kid-sister cut— and she had plenty to say
about the matter at the moment.

“Are you crazy?” she demanded, plucking a bit of ham from the mostly denuded bone
in the roaster and popping it in her mouth. “You’re going to let that douche canoe
sweep you off to some foreign country nobody’s ever heard of and make you live in
a place called
Bangenschloss
?”

We both snickered—again—but I sobered immediately and said, “I’ve heard of Montaneva.
And don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s gross.”

She stuck her ham-laden tongue out at me. “How do you know he’s really taking you
to Dr. Kilmartin? You said he fell off the radar years ago—what if he’s some serial
killer who’s never caught because he lures women to foreign countries before he rapes,
tortures and kills them? Maybe he’ll make you bang
his
schloss for a year and then grind you up and serve you as wienerschnitzel.”

I rolled my eyes. “Do you even know what wienerschnitzel is?”

“Or wait! Montaneva is right next door to Romania, and Transylvania’s in Romania,
right?” Her eyes grew round. “Oooh! Maybe Dr. Kilmartin is a vampire and Colin the
Cockhead is his human servant, scouring the world for tender-skinned blood slaves
to take home to his master.”

“Bree, where in God’s name do you get these insane ideas?”

“I can read,” she sniffed.

“Well you’re twenty-six years old now, for crying out loud,” I told her severely.
“It’s time you started reading something a little more edifying. Pick up some biographies
at the library or something.”

She blew a raspberry at me and I grimaced, brushing imaginary bits of ham from the
sleeve of my sweater.

“Seriously, Rae, this doesn’t feel right to me. You shouldn’t let someone who already
hurt you once take you so far away from the people who can protect you.”

“What, like you’re Buffy or something?”

“Hey, I can kill a man with nothing more than an air bubble,” she said with a narrow
look, “but that’s not what I’m talking about.”

“I know,” I said in a conciliatory tone. “Come on, you know it was mainly my pride
that was hurt, and I’m the one who told Colin to get out, remember? If anyone should
be worried, it’s him.”

“You didn’t mean forever and the cockhead knew it,” she said doggedly. “And you had
feelings for both of them.”

“I had a fangirl crush on Julian just like every other resident in the building, and
Colin was just a—”

“Substitute?”

“Fling.” I flung a piece of ham fat at her. “He was great in bed, that’s all.”

“That’s it. I’m coming to visit you for Christmas. I have three weeks coming to me,
and all the nurses on the floor owe me big-time because I’m the only one who’s single.”

Uh-oh. I wasn’t allowed visitors for the first three months. “That might not be the
best idea. We’re going to be really deep into this project.”

Her blue eyes narrowed. “You can’t have visitors, can you?”

“It’s a top secret project.” It sounded weak even to my ears.

“Well there’s nothing that says I can’t meet you in town, is there?”

“Of course not,” I said brightly. “Maybe I can get a day or two off and we can do
some sightseeing while you’re there.”

“Okay then,” she said, marginally pacified.

“Hey, are you girls eating all the ham?” Art said, pulling up a chair and taking a
defensive stance over the ham bone.

Bree put up her hands. “Easy, boy, it’s all yours.”

“You only say that because you know it’s true.” He looked at me. “The name of that
place you’re going to, Bangenschloss?”

Bree and I both snickered.

“Grow up, girls. Schloss means castle. We looked it up on a German translation site.
And believe it or not, Bangenschloss really is an ancient castle.”

A vision of me emptying a chamber pot out the castle window onto the heads of unsuspecting
peasants below made me shudder. “I assume it’s been updated with indoor plumbing?”

“I’d think so. A couple of articles mentioned extensive renovations.”

“Of course. They wouldn’t have put in labs with no bathrooms. Cool, then I’m down
with a castle. Were there any photos?” I asked eagerly.

“As a matter of fact, no. We couldn’t find a single one, which is really weird in
this day and age. Not even a Google Earth image.”

“Money buys privacy,” Bree said in a disgusted tone.

“Yeah, that’s why the tabloids are filled with pictures of movie stars without makeup
or Spanx.”

It was Art’s turn to receive a hammy raspberry.

“So what does
bangen
mean?” I asked.

“Well, apparently it could either mean fear or awe.”

Bree stared at him. “You’re shitting me. Castle of Fear? Really?”

“Castle of Awe, with a mote of awesome sauce,” I said decisively. “I can’t wait to
get there.”

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

October 16

 

By the time the limo passed through the little village of Kander and started the last
leg of the journey deep into the woods of Montaneva, I was wired for sound. I’d slept
for three or four hours—a good night’s sleep for me—at a London hotel when my connecting
flight was cancelled due to weather, so rather than battling fatigue, I’d spent most
of today’s trip trying unsuccessfully to dial back my excitement a little. Dr. Kilmartin
had hired me as a surgeon. Period. End of story. If there were something more personal
on his agenda, Colin would have said so, right? Or the man would have come himself.

Right?

Yeah, that’s what I kept telling myself, but I couldn’t help vibrating with nervous
anticipation.

“Pardon me, Dr. McBride, but we are arriving at Bangenschloss
.

Startled out of my reverie, I jerked upright. “Awesome. As much as I enjoy it, I’m
ready to be done with traveling for a while.”

The handsome, brown-haired limo driver, who’d introduced himself simply as Dirk, nodded
knowingly as he turned in between two imposing wrought-iron gates and headed up a
rutted gravel drive. “I have been to the States many times in my life,” he said, meeting
my eyes in the rear view mirror. “It is a long trip.”

That explained his excellent English.

“Very long,” I agreed. My eyes widened as we rolled to a stop, then I blinked repeatedly.
“Are you sure this is it?”

“I’m sure. I’ve been here many times.”

He hopped out and hustled around to open my door while I stared out the tinted window
at the pile of rough-hewn limestone that was to be my working home for the next two
years. Bree and I had laughed because the name sounded kind of dirty, but I wasn’t
laughing now.

Bangenschloss
was
dirty, and not in a fun way. Square, squat, and as gray and foreboding as the storm
clouds boiling up behind it, the castle had an eternity’s worth of filth drizzling
down its mottled façade.

Good God, maybe I
would
be emptying a chamber pot out my window.

Assuming I could get it open without sending a bunch of baby birds plummeting to their
deaths. The sills of the narrow mullioned windows bristled with nests.

And the two crenellated towers visible from this angle were riddled with holes and
gouges, as if they’d taken a blast from God’s own shotgun. Hopefully that wasn’t their
idea of air conditioning.

 “Dr. McBride?” Dirk was standing there with his hand out.

Bemused by the courtly gesture, I hooked my purse and laptop over my shoulder and
let him help me out of the limo. A quick glance around revealed that the grounds were
almost as neglected as the castle. A jungle of weeds had pushed their way up between
the cobblestones of the courtyard, the scattered ornamental shrubs were overgrown,
and if there were any flower beds on the gently rolling grounds, I couldn’t see them
for the grass, which had long since gone to seed. The whole place looked unkempt and
unwelcoming, and so far from the sparkling Disney-esque palace of my imagination it
was almost laughable.

“No wonder there are no pictures on the internet,” I murmured. “The poor thing is
probably embarrassed to be seen.”

When I caught Dirk’s haughty look, heat prickled in my cheeks. “Sorry, that was tactless
of me. I was told the castle had been renovated.”

“The interior
was
extensively renovated,” he grunted as he grappled with the larger of my two bags.
“And the castle was reroofed. It is now a palace fit for a king and all his minions.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said quickly, though I had a feeling his idea of a palace
and mine might be worlds apart.
Note to self: Don’t diss the palace in front of the minions.

But I knew there had to be a state-of-the-art research facility in there somewhere.
Dr. Kilmartin’s personal assistant Vince had said during our brief phone conversation
that I could bring whatever electronics I wanted because the entire castle had been
rewired with 110-volt outlets—which was why I’d anticipated lots of glass and steel,
with immaculately manicured, if utilitarian, grounds. Why would he go to all the trouble
and expense of renovating the interior and then let the exterior go to hell like this?

Something must be wrong. The exacting neurosurgeon who’d made all the residents quake
in their sneakers when he walked by would never let anything in his possession deteriorate
this way.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and I shivered as a gust of rainy-smelling wind whipped
up a funnel of leaves in the barren courtyard, plastering my pleated skirt against
my thighs. Fortunately, I’d worn black tights and ankle boots so I didn’t have to
worry about flashing anyone.

Dirk finally got my bag over the edge of the trunk and let it thump onto the gravel
next to my guitar. I’d brought everything I could possibly fit into two bags, and
that one was so overweight, it would have cost an arm and a leg to get it on the plane
if I hadn’t been flying first class.

He strapped the smaller bag to the larger, then picked up my guitar and turned. “If
you will follow me, Dr. McBride.”

Wow, talk about service. A cabbie—especially one I’d offended—would have dumped my
bags on the ground and left me to haul them in myself.

I followed him through the courtyard and was surprised when he veered away from the
badly weathered front doors. He rolled my bags along a cobblestone path at the foot
of the castle and disappeared around the corner.

When I caught up with him, I had to stop and gape. There was a tremendous white wind
turbine practically right there in the back yard, its slender blades spinning lazily
in spite of the blustery wind. How had I not seen that? It towered over the castle
and the surrounding forest of trees, looking very out of place in the primeval setting.

“Dr. McBride, this way, if you please.”

I tore my eyes away to find Dirk waiting for me, gesturing impatiently up a short
run of steps with a framed ramp for wheelchair access on the side. He was certainly
arrogant for a limo driver, but then it seemed like really good-looking men always
were, no matter how lowly their occupation. His erect bearing and strong Slavic features
radiated command, and I wondered if he might have spent some time in the military.

Another rumble of thunder, this one louder, had me hurrying up the steps to the small
wooden deck and ringing the doorbell. It took a few minutes, but the door finally
opened and a cheerful young redhead with a Van Dyke beard emerged.

“You must be Dr. McBride. I’m Vince Price, Dr. Kilmartin’s personal assistant. And
before you ask,” he said with a grin, “yes, it’s short for Vincent. I think that’s
the main reason he hired me.”

I couldn’t help smiling as I shook the hand he held out. “I wouldn’t be that rude.”

Dirk snorted and Vince gave him a quizzical look. I just ignored him. After all, I’d
already apologized, and he was the limo driver, not the master of the house. If anyone
should be bowing and scraping, it was him.